Thursday, April 19, 2012

More Valdez Bluebird - 4.9.2012

After a great day on the Worthington Glacier, Nick and I had a long list of reasons to head back. Remembering the long, flat slog up the glacier, Nick and I decided to rent a sled for the day. Which allowed us skip the 3 mile approach from camp and get ahead of this group:


With the flat sections of the skin skipped, we quickly were back on the ridgeline as the previous day:


Looking south at a very cool medial moraine:


After a beautiful hour and a half of skinning we were on top of a 1500 vertical foot ramp:


Nick dropped first:


And before long was arcing GS turns towards our skin track:


I followed:


Looking back up:


Then, we jumped back on the sled and headed up the glacier to the base of this:


Another group had already skied it, but that was fine with me: not only did we not have to put in the bootpack up it, it was the steepest thing I've ever skied in winter in the backcountry. To gain the ridge we booted straight up the face, every step of which I was worried I was going to fall backwards off of it. Nick on the ridge:


The above picture is one of the most exciting memories of the whole trip for me. Looking at a topo map of Thompson Pass the other night, I realized that the small, insignificant glacier in the top center of the photo is the Bench Glacier! The Bench, along with the Kennicott Glacier, are the two glaciers that my master's thesis are based on! The Bench Glacier again:


As I waited for Nick below the last pitch, drenched in sweat wearing an unzipped shirt, I realized just how hot it was out. Immediately concerned about ice fall from the large hanging blocks at the summit, Nick and I decided to ski from just below the summit. Nick skied the upper pitch first, then pulled off to take some incredible pictures, allowing me to ski the entire face at once:










Nick:


We wanted to head to a mini golf zone lower on the glacier, but the sun wasn't reaching it yet. We decided to wait for the light and do some sled laps first. I haven't skied pow switch in years, but I figured I'd give it a go on the third run of the day:


Nick on our fourth run:


With the sun low in the western sky we headed back to our old skin track for some mini golf. Nick gets ready to drop:


Dropping!


Success!


I followed, dropping from a little higher on the ridge:


...and onto a fun rib:


...followed by some carvable pow:


After 5 runs it was 6 PM, we still had 3 hours of light and the last thing that I wanted to do was stop skiing; but with the RV due back in Anchorage the next morning, we still had packing and 6 hours of driving ahead of us. So, we headed back to the parking lot.

The drive back was beautiful, with amazing alpenglow over the Wrangells, Mount Drum:


Looking back on our days in Valdez...its incredible there! We were a little late in the year: the first 1500 vertical feet above Thompson Pass was all very sun affected, and aspects on the south half of the compass had a sun crust at all elevations. The access to the goods is all a bit long this time of year, but having a sled here would make this a non-issue. You definitely don't need a helicopter to have a good time here, but it would be awesome!!!

More to come!